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So You want to Buy a Collector Car! Part 5

We have begun another new feature on Legendary Collector Cars. We invite guest authors to submit their articles for publication in our Blog. Today’s contribution is from Bill Culp of Decatur, Alabama. If you would like to make a submission for consideration please send it to:

Part 5

Probably the last two areas to be concerned with are the upholstery and paint.  It is not inconceivable that you will have to replace upholstery no matter what.  Years of heat and wear will make the interior marginal at best.  Just get all of the pieces and pay attention to the chrome items.  You will want to reuse them and not have a plating bill.  Missing items can be a nightmare especially if this is a low production special model that you want to stand out in a crowd. For some cars you can go to a catalog and order up an entire new interior. For others everything will need to be hand made. If you are going custom that isn’t a problem. However, if you are doing an authentic restoration finding the right upholstery may be a huge problem. There are businesses out there that might be able to supply you with what you need but you still need an upholstery shop that can stitch it back together like the factory did. A good interior restoration can easily start at $1000.00 and we have heard of numbers reaching into five figures for the more elaborate interiors. A steering wheel restoration can cost $500 or more. Some original wood steering wheels cost more than most project cars.

The paint may be in poor condition or just need a buff and wax.  It may not be the color that you want.  The thing to look for is body damage, poor body repair, misaligned panels and rust.  Surface rust can be sand blasted or removed with a DA and prepped.  The usual quarter panel rust can be repaired with a welded patch panel and so can minor door, hood and deck lid rust.  Significant rust will require new or used panels to be welded in or installed.  The better the basic body the less that you have to spend on the restoration.  Expect at least $5000.00 for paint of a good car. This will vary depending on what part of the Country you live in, how much work you do your self and how good of paint job you want. Remember, the final results depend more on the preparation of the body for the paint than the paint itself. The more that is needed to get the body into the shape you want the more the cost.

Condition of the chrome plating is not usually at the top of one’s list when looking at a car.  However, it is very important and very expensive. Few shops understand just how to repair and plate these pieces; especially the pot metal parts which includes the beautiful emblems and grills.  Missing parts are not good; buying a used one and then getting it plated can be very costly.  Expect to spend a minimum of $500 on a bumper of simple design.  Pot metal parts can easily cost $100.00 each for a small item.  Those small emblems can be a big problem especially if there is any pitting! If the car you are looking at has big chrome bumpers (1950s Cadillac or Buick for example) expect to pay more for the chrome than you will for paint.

Don’t worry too much about stainless steel trim, as it can be polished and minor dings taken out by you.  The major ones are not impossible for an expert, but can be expensive.  Aluminum is a problem as it is soft and easily damaged.  It too can be straightened by an expert and then re anodized or even chrome plated if originality isn’t an issue.

There was a time when I could acquire a car that was missing some parts and I could just go out and purchase them at reasonable prices.  I knew all of the right junk yards and everything was available.  I currently have a 1963 Dodge Polara 500 convertible that pleases me but it was missing a couple of items that I wanted.  At the time that was no problem as I just went around and gathered up the proper factory AC to replace the dealer installed one, found a car with the electric windows that I wanted to add to go with the power bucket seat that I wanted. I cannot do this today.  While the parts might be out there, the prices would be very high. Ebay has made them easier to find but has also brought everyone looking for them to the same location. The auction fever typically drives the prices up.

Best advice? Start with the best car you can find and afford!

If you have stayed with me for this long I know that you are a real car guy. If you don’t currently belong to a car club consider one. However, all clubs are not alike, look for one that meets your needs.  The other club members will likely be happy to help you to spend your money and they enjoy the search for cars and parts as much as you.  Use their skills, friendship and enthusiasm to your benefit. You will also likely find pleasure in helping them and learning about the cars they have been lusting over all these long years.  They will not only become some of your very best friends but they can also help you to enjoy both the good times and help you through the tough times with your car.  When you need help on your collector car your family and neighbors may not always be understanding, but a fellow club member has been there and done that!

If you liked this series you might also like to check out this post on The Ten Most Collectible Cars of the Next Decade.

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I grew up and lived in Iowa for a good portion of my life before moving to Southern California. After 20+ years we now live outside Nashville Tennessee. I have been into cars since I was old enough to remember. I don't have a brand loyalty although I do prefer American Muscle especially the 1969/1970 NASCAR Aero Cars. (Check out our other web site at site) As long as it has four wheels and an engine I get excited. Few men are lucky enough to be able to share their passion for cars with the woman they love. Fortunately, my wife, Katriana, is also a gear head and many of our activities revolve around the cars. We have a small collection that includes at least one car from each of the Big Three. It includes a Best of Show winner, a survivor, a driver with lots of patina and several others. Katrina prefers all original cars while I like to modify them so we have a few of each. When we aren't playing with cars we are out working with or showing our miniature donkeys. You can see more about that part of our lives at

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